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    Clara Barton waits to return to the battlefield: "I am not doing anything worth being called work"

    Clara Barton Autograph Letter Signed "Clara." Four pages, 5" x 8", Washington, D.C., April 10, 1864. While poor weather stalls troop movements in and around Washington, army nurse Clara Barton sends a lengthy and news-filled letter to her "Couzin Len," possibly twenty-three-year-old Captain George E. Barton of the 57th Massachusetts Infantry.

    While in the capital city, Barton was busy gathering medical supplies following her recent appointment as superintendent of the Department of Nurses in the Army of the James, under the command of Benjamin Butler. Impatient to get near the front lines again, she frets in this letter that she isn't working hard enough. She also includes her opinion about rumors that General Ulysses Grant, recently promoted to general-in-chief of all Union armies, would soon locate his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. After jesting that a previous letter had not been delivered - "I will conclude to call it an accident and go to law with Uncle Sam" - she writes the following:

    "I cannot yet speak with any specific certainty of my desires, but will say that I have some hopes of being able to see you before long and that I am under infinite obligation to you for the willingness which you express to entrust your present welfare to my safe-keeping. I will try to deserve as much confidence and not act with any less responsibility than 'any man in the world' would do. It is not worth the while to enter into particulars unless they become tangible and then I will be both communicative and explicit.

    I 'working too hard.' Nonsense boy! I am fretting that I can't do something - I am not doing anything worth being called work.

    The army cannot move at present as it has rained for almost two weeks and is so muddy, and twelve batteries have returned to the city that had gone forward to the front a month ago - over three thousand men - so you see we are 'old stuck in the mud' once more. I suspect it is for me to get ready in - but don't[?] know when I am to commence.

    You must not let little children ask too many questions, you must not give them the . . . [illegible] of you but tell them to wait patiently till there time comes. I suspect there might have been some blank looks on your letter of last steamer which contained no companion - and I do not yet understand why a regular steamer should leave part and bring me no word at all from so regular a correspondent as the Capt - he might have been in a great hurry and I presume he has too much to do for his own comfort.

    'Pleasure Excursions': you may well say 'what a Department' - I think so too, I believe it would be better to withdraw all but the blockade and protective force, and break up the silly little concern. I am sorry to learn that you think there is a prospect of the Gen'l coming to the Army of the Potomac. He has made his own nest and had best be made to remain in it. This army will do very well as it is."

    Nine days after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, Clara Barton began tending wounded soldiers. She continued her care throughout the long war, and afterwards, this "Angel of the Battlefield" searched for missing dead soldiers, identifying as many as possible. Her work of compassion continued in 1881 when she founded the American Red Cross. One month after writing this letter, Barton was again near the action at the Battle of the Wilderness, tending the wounded. This letter is faintly age toned, with a few minor stains and an ink smudge on the first page. From the Judith Kaplan Women's History Collection.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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